State Bond Commission Approves $10 Million For Dillon Stadium

20 February 2018

The effort to revive Hartford’s crumbling Dillon Stadium cleared a major hurdle Friday, when the State Bond Commission approved $10 million in public funding for the project.

City leaders are in the midst of negotiating a contract with Hartford Sports Group, chosen by the Capital Region Development Authority to redevelop the aging structure in Colt Park. The group, headed by Woodbridge businessman Bruce Mandell, would be the primary tenant at the stadium. Mandell plans to launch a professional team, backed by the United Soccer League, in spring 2019.

Leaders of the sports group said they would put up $7 million to $10 million of their own money to form the team, and they asked for another $10 million to upgrade the stadium. The money will cover the repair and replacement of bleachers; new fencing, curbing and sidewalks; landscaping and lighting improvements; and renovations to the lockers rooms, restrooms and press box. It will also pay for a new artificial turf field.

CRDA will oversee the redevelopment and the city will retain ownership of the facility.

“The stadium is in a great state of disrepair, bordering on dangerous,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said at the bond commission meeting Friday. “So either we appropriate money to put it in good shape, or we appropriate money to take it down.”

He conceded, under questioning from a Republican member of the commission, that the last attempt to revive Dillon Stadium ended with federal convictions and the theft of public funds. But without the new subsidy, “we have to tear it down,” Malloy said.

“It’s a lot cheaper than the baseball stadium,” he added, referring to Hartford’s new publicly funded, $71 million minor league ballpark.

The artificial turf field became a sticking point in discussions about the stadium’s price tag. CRDA previously suggested setting aside $6.7 million for upgrades, but the budget did not include the turf field.

Mandell had talked about finding other ways to pay for it, such as a sponsorship. State officials ultimately agreed to include it in their allocation.

Hartford Sports Group has offered to pay $125,000 per year to rent the stadium, though Mandell and CRDA have both acknowledged that figure could be higher.

“We are grateful for the confidence Gov. Malloy, the commission and the Capital Region Development Authority have placed in us as we plan to bring a United Soccer League franchise to Dillon Stadium for the 2019 season,” Mandell said in a statement Friday. “The Hartford Sports Group is committed to the city and future of Coltsville.”

The city council must still sign off on the deal. Residents have raised concerns about public access to the stadium. Council members said they will hear from the public before voting on the agreement.

The subsidy also includes funds for Colt Park, which will cover landscaping, signs and improvements to park buildings.